“We’re really excited about doing a restart of our distribution and about being much more aligned with the channels and where you would find the brand,” said Steve Sedlbauer, president and owner of the Burlington, Ontario-based company.
One major step was to hire industry veteran Christina Gaddy as its VP for the U.S. division last month. “[We’re excited about] bringing Christina into the picture because of her background, experience and where we want the future of the brand to be,” said Sedlbauer.
Gaddy started her career at Dillard’s department stores before moving over to the brand side, with stints at Caleres, Rockport and Merrell. At Cougar, she hopes to capitalize on her experience at these top industry names to achieve a new audience for the footwear firm across the States.
“The U.S. is virtually untapped for Cougar. We know there is interest for us in the market, based on findings from our own website, analytics and research,” said Gaddy. “This was an opportunity to take all of my learning and apply it to Cougar’s U.S. operation.”
The company’s strategy so far involves refreshed marketing tactics and a more targeted approach to retail.
Cougar has roughly 300 accounts globally, including independents such as Harry’s New York and Double Diamond Shoes in Utah as well as larger merchants. It recently began working with Nordstrom.com.
“The brand has a great reputation — it is that jewel that is ready to be polished and risen up to shine,” said Gaddy.
She noted that the firm’s distribution is heavily concentrated on independents, specialty retailers and the family channel, which leaves plenty of opportunities for growth.
“We’re definitely going after some key segmentations — premium e-commerce, key department stores, expanding on the specialty retailer segment,” Gaddy said. “That also encompasses the independents, from boutiques to family shoe stores to outdoor specialty.”
On the product side, Cougar is introducing footwear styles that shine more light upon its heritage.
The Sedlbauer family started the company as a boot manufacturer in 1948 and in the 1970s expanded with other footwear products, including its now-iconic leather Pillow Boot, which at one point sold 8 million units across eight years.
“The Pillow Boot was born and became a phenomenon in Canada,” said Sedlbauer, who took over leadership from his father and has been at Cougar for 40 years. “It made the brand a household name in the Canadian market.”
Cougar’s designers continue to look toward innovative creations. One key style is the Fabiola, a hybrid of a moccasin and a sneaker that comes in several colors.
The brand seeks to eventually become a four-season player with casual waterproof footwear that can be worn in transitional seasons.
“We’re embracing our leather boot manufacturer past and pushing our development team to be creative, unique and market it toward more leather products,” said Sedlbauer. “We’re trying to start the story with fashion as opposed to function and capitalize where the two meet.”
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